Professor Ethan Bernstein

Inside the Senior Executive Forum Experience

Learnings gained from Harvard’s elite

5 minute read
Professor Ethan Bernstein

Professor Ethan Bernstein at the Senior Executive Forum 2022

An opportunity for Western Australia’s corporate leaders to rub shoulders with respected Harvard Business School professors, the AIM WA Senior Executive Forum offers a unique and complex learning environment, delivering successfully on professional development through case study learning.

The Harvard Business School case study method provides realistic scenarios and teaches “the art of managing uncertainty”.

This famous case method enables active feedback and reflection through discussion and collaboration with fellow peers to understand how people from all walks of life use the same information to arrive at diverse conclusions.

For over 30 years, the Senior Executive Forum has allowed this case study method to be experienced in Perth.

2023 participant Business News Director of Business Development and Marketing Paula Connell expressed that the real-life examples and business applications were extremely valuable.

“The Professors brought theoretical ideas into reality, showing me that businesses (often large global ones) have the same issues and problems we all do, and the important part is not the problem but how we approach it,” she said.

“Often as leaders, we complicate things in business. This Forum improved my leadership by reminding me that sometimes it is about keeping it simple, applying logic to resolve a solution and acting in the best interests of your staff, clients and stakeholders.”

Ms Connell further shared her key takeaway on using the Harvard Case Study Method in practice.

“Appreciate every idea whether it sounds farfetched or not, broaden horizons and surround yourself with people who think differently,” she said.

Fremantle Chamber of Commerce CEO Chrissie Maus FAIM shared how the Forum changed the way she operated as a CEO.

"I’ve done so many courses like my Company Director and my Williamson leadership course. But the three days that I went on for the Senior Executive Forum just blew my mind," she said. 

Expanding on the extraordinary effect of the Forum, Ms Maus discussed the unique nature of her experience.

"You can’t prepare for it and you certainly can't anticipate the profound impact when the Harvard instructors enter the room," she said.

"Their style of learning, everything I got out of it, I am an extremely better CEO than I was after those three days."

2022 participant Foodbank WA Chief Executive Officer Kate O’Hara said the opportunity for professional development at the Senior Executive Forum was second to none, for both herself and the Foodbank WA leadership team.

“To see an event held by AIM WA with the calibre of Harvard’s lecturers has, for a long time, had an appeal,” she said.

“Being one year into my role as Chief Executive Officer, I felt that it was an ideal time to not just personally go for a refresh but to also bring some members of the leadership team along to build on leadership, team alignment and culture development.

“It was enormously powerful.”

Moment to refocus

Established in 1994, Foodbank WA underwent significant changes in response to COVID-19.

Ms O'Hara expressed how the Forum helped the organisation evaluate crucial factors in order to continuously improve and align with market demands.

“Each case study’s discussion points, overviews and summaries were very easily translated into what we are dealing with right now as an organisation."

“The manner in which it was presented and the volume of insights that are relevant to business was phenomenal,” she said.

Connecting with leaders

Ms O’Hara said being able to connect with other business leaders was also a highlight of the event, uncovering the intersecting issues faced by a raft of industries.

“I've definitely come away with a very different perspective,” she said.

“It made me stop and think about other organisations and their issues.

“The blend of C-suite and senior management was very good. The breadth of businesses, from the massive-scale Fortescue Metals Group (Fortescue) to the smaller-scale organisations, was really useful.

“To be able to hear some of the things they’re dealing with, which they spoke honestly about, enabled us to develop a level of trust and do talk about things that, in a half-day session, would never have normally been tabled and debated.”


Fortescue Resource Definition Manager - Eastern Operations Shane Carr agreed that bringing together people from different sectors and worlds was a highlight.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to engage with the not-for-profit sector previously, so it was great to see such a significant turnout of people from non-profits there.

“I was able to have conversations with them, not just around the content but also around how their businesses operate.

“It was also a great opportunity for me as an individual to see those different viewpoints, understand the different challenges and know that there are shared challenges across all industries and businesses.”

Understanding strategy and leadership

Similar to Ms O’Hara, Mr Carr was especially drawn to the Senior Executive Forum having just stepped into a leadership role.

He said he left the Forum with a greater understanding of how to identify a good strategy, formulate it and contribute to discussions around it.

“I learnt some of the soft skills from the leadership point of view about different ways people can influence their own leadership and other people’s, as well as setting a culture of acceptance to change and how that can be quite empowering,” Mr Carr said.

“One thing I took from it at a personal level was that everybody has a fair amount of imposter syndrome when you take on a higher role for the first time.

“They make the Forum very easy for all levels to talk to each other – I sat down with chief executive officers, chief financial officers and managing directors, and we were able to have conversations where I was able to hold my own.

“It gave me an opportunity to sit down and talk with people outside my organisation, as well as within my organisation that are higher up than myself.

"This was an event where doing this was encouraged – it didn’t matter what your job title was, everyone’s opinion was there to be heard and valued.

“This was quite powerful for myself as an individual.”

Well worth it

“If it’s your first time going, and if you’re in a similar position to myself, definitely go for nothing else other than the fact that it will give you validation of your role and your ability, as well as the exposure to other industries,” Mr Carr said.

“These leadership and strategy sessions lead to change and, sometimes, that change is great for the organisation or the person realises they are a changed person from it and they cannot go back to an unchanged environment,” Ms O’Hara said.

Where to from here?

Join Professor Ethan Bernstein and Professor Tiona Zuzul to broaden your perspectives, challenge your thinking and unpack the complexities of the issues explored in Harvard Business School case studies. Book now